Breaking down the Flyers roster: Are they really ‘two or three pieces’ away? Not a chance
While Dave Scott and Chuck Fletcher have harped the team doesn't need to rebuild, a closer examination of the roster paints a much different picture, especially given Claude Giroux's uncertain future.
With the All-Star break beginning Thursday and the Flyers (15-22-8) out of playoff contention, barring a dramatic turnaround, Flyers CEO Dave Scott and GM Chuck Fletcher addressed the state of the organization last week, declaring that the roster needs “retooling” but not a rebuild.
After stating that “everything is on the table,” Scott made it a point to say that he didn’t see this as a “three-to-five-year process.” In his opinion, the team just needs “two or three more pieces” to complement the strong core it already has.
They both spoke to how much injuries have impacted the team’s results and their continued belief in some of the organization’s young players.
Ahead of the break, we decided to take a look at the state of the current roster ahead of the March 21 trade deadline and examine how accurate or inaccurate Fletcher and Scott’s comments about the team being “two or three more pieces” away really are.
What happens with Giroux?
All eyes will be on Claude Giroux as the trade deadline approaches. The captain will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but until then, he has a no-move clause. That doesn’t mean he won’t be leaving — it just means he has complete control over if he gets traded and where, which Fletcher reiterated last week.
“Ultimately that’ll be his decision,” Fletcher said.
Giroux has been a lifelong Flyer and is currently the longest tenured professional athlete in Philadelphia. He’s second in franchise history in games played (985), assists (605), and points (893), and is eighth in the NHL in scoring since entering the league in 2008. Despite all he’s accomplished, he’s never won a Stanley Cup.
The 34-year-old, who has 35 points in 42 games this season, still has a lot of game left and will be one of the most in-demand players at the deadline. For a team like say Colorado, he could even be the final missing piece to a Stanley Cup favorite. Giroux has previously reiterated he wants to retire a Flyer but given the team’s current state, a chance to join a Cup contender would seem hard to pass up for Giroux. The Flyers would also likely recoup a first-round pick and a prospect for Giroux, a move that would help them start “retooling” their farm system.
Whether he stays, accepts a trade or departs in free agency (very unlikely), Giroux’s decision will have a major impact on the Flyers’ mindset heading into next season. From a purely financial aspect, he currently takes up 10% of the team’s salary cap. That said, he’s still one of the team’s top players and as captain for the past nine years, remains a leader in the locker room. The Flyers without Claude Giroux? It could soon become a reality.
When Fletcher said at his midseason press conference that there’s a group of existing players in Philadelphia that can be “part of a winning core” going forward, he should be referring to these five.
Headlining the group of “untouchable” players is 23-year-old goalie Carter Hart, who rebounded from a .877 save percentage in 2020-21 to a .915 save percentage through 29 games this season. Despite an inconsistent defense in front of him, Hart has proven that he’s worth the three-year, $11.9-million contract extension he signed in the offseason. After years of poor goaltending, the Flyers organization finally has its franchise netminder.
Twenty-one-year-olds Joel Farabee (33 games, 11 goals, 7 assists) and Cam York (12 games, 1 goal, two assists) have each shown growth in their respective games, hinting that they haven’t yet reached their ceilings. Farabee has showcased high-end speed and if he stays healthy, projects as a 30-plus goalscorer. The Flyers also have to be impressed with the highly-touted York, who in his second spell with the team has shown he has a bright future as a puck-moving defenseman.
Despite an injury-marred 2021-22 season, 29-year-old center Sean Couturier (29 games, 6 goals, 11 assists) remains a franchise building block. One of the the game’s top two-way centers, Couturier is a perennial Selke Trophy finalist and entering 2021-22 had averaged 0.91 points per game over the previous four seasons. In the offseason, the Flyers committed to Couturier through 2029-30 and included a no-move clause in his contract.
Additionally, the Flyers remain eager to see what they have in a healthy Ryan Ellis, who has only appeared in four games this season. As long as he’s capable of coming back healthy next season, the Flyers’ acquisition of the 31-year-old defenseman is still worth what they gave up in defenseman Phil Myers (20 games, 3 assists with the Nashville Predators) and center Nolan Patrick (15 games, 2 goals, 4 assists with the Vegas Golden Knights). A difference-maker on the power play, penalty kill, and at 5-on-5, the Flyers have never recovered after losing Ellis early in the season.
Likely to return
There are a number of players signed through at least 2023 who have been good but not great. While many are part of the leadership group, trading them could provide cap relief. However, if Fletcher and Scott don’t foresee a long rebuild, most of these players will likely return.
Cam Atkinson would be one of the hardest players to move because he is under contract for three more seasons at a $5.875 million cap hit and has a modified no-trade clause (he may submit a 10-team no-trade list). He’s been a productive addition to the team both on the ice (a team-high 17 goals) and in the locker room. However, he makes up 7.2% of the Flyers’ cap. He’s also 32, so he’s not someone you can count on long-term.
Scott Laughton, who is signed through the 2025-26 season, is also likely to be back. He’s capable of playing center or wing, and can slide up or down in the lineup when needed. While he has not had a standout season, at $3 million per year, Laughton isn’t overly expensive and is valuable bottom-six forward.
James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes are being paid the most out of the group, both with contracts that take up almost 9% of the team’s cap. Van Riemsdyk (11 goals) has had a streaky season thus far, and Hayes has been injured for all of it. Fletcher could look try and offload van Riemsdyk either at the deadline or in the summer, but his $7 million cap hit for next season will make that tough. Regarding Hayes, who is under contract at a $7.14 million cap hit through 2026, the Flyers will have to hope the 29-year-old can rediscover his 2019-20 form after undergoing multiple abdominal surgeries this season.
That leaves Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, and Oskar Lindblom, who have all had ups and downs over the Flyers’ back-to-back rough seasons. Although they’re all signed through at least next season, they could technically be traded. However, they’re also all young and have shown positive things in the past that hint they remain, at least for now, part of the team’s core. Provorov, 25, appeared poised for stardom a year ago but has regressed in each of the past two seasons. Management will likely give Provorov a longer audition with Ellis before moving on from the Russian defenseman.
Free agency on the horizon
Outside of Giroux, the other big question surrounds soon-to-be UFA defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
Fletcher’s decision to trade away Robert Hägg, a 2021 first-round pick, and 2023 second-round pick for him last summer was extremely controversial. Ristolainen, who played for lowly Buffalo , had some of the worst defensive numbers in the league, but the Flyers were confident they could rehabilitate him.
While Ristolainen, 27, hasn’t been stellar, he’s brought physicality (138 hits) to the second pair beside Travis Sanheim. Fletcher is well aware of the steep price he paid and he did so with the intention of keeping Ristolainen. He said it’s hard to find such a physical defenseman, especially one with a right-hand shot.
However, Ristolainen is making $5.4 million a year. As the team looks for more high-end talent, that high of a salary will make things difficult. But, like Giroux, Fletcher said a lot of it will be up to Ristolainen and what he is asking for in terms of a contract.
“He will control a lot of that discussion, and we’ll work with his representation to see what makes sense,” Fletcher said.
In the offseason, Fletcher signed a handful of veterans — goalie Martin Jones, defenseman Keith Yandle, forward Derick Brassard, and center Nate Thompson — to one-year deals to bolster a win-now roster. With the Flyers struggling, the likelihood that any of these pending unrestricted free agents return is slim.
Before their contracts expire, Fletcher will see what kind of return select players would fetch at the trade deadline. Jones (17 games, .901 save percentage) could be an option for a contender looking for goaltending depth and willing to exchange late-round draft capital.
Defenseman Justin Braun (44 games, 3 goals, 8 assists, plus-2) will also become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. While Fletcher may want to see if he can move Braun before the deadline, Braun has played well enough this season to earn a short-term deal if he’s interested in returning.
Meanwhile, prospects Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison are slated to become restricted free agents this offseason. Laczynski, sidelined for the 2021-22 season with a left hip injury, has played just 14 games for the Phantoms and five for the Flyers over two seasons.
Allison, also 24, also has sustained a slew of injuries throughout his collegiate and pro careers (torn ACL, separated shoulder, ankle surgery, sprained ankle, elbow injury) and is currently dealing with an MCL sprain. He has played 10 games for the Phantoms and 15 for the Flyers in two seasons. Both would figure to be back given their age and potential but Fletcher must contemplate their injury histories before deciding if they’re worth extending qualifying offers to.
In the pipeline
Despite years of poor drafting, particularly in the higher rounds, the Flyers look to have hit on their last couple first-round selections.
Farabee (2018) and York (2019) are already contributing at a high clip at the NHL level and should only get better. The jury is still out on 22-year-old Morgan Frost (27 games, 2 goals, 7 points), who has showcased offensive ability but is still figuring our how to become a complete player at the NHL level. The Flyers also turned Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick from 2017 NHL Entry Draft who has been a bust partly due to a series of injuries, into Ellis, a bona fide first-pair defenseman when healthy.
With a farm system ranked in the low teens by many experts, the Flyers have some players to be excited about. The only problem is that most of them are probably a year or two away from contributing at the NHL level.
The two players closest to making an impact for the big club are probably Russian defenseman Egor Zamula and 2020 first-round pick Tyson Foerster. The 6-foot-3 Zamula has size, skill, and skating ability and got his feet wet at the NHL level with one game this season and two last year. Filling out his frame (he’s listed at 177 lbs.) and continuing to progress offensively are the next steps for Zamula, who has 3 goals, 14 points, and is minus-1 for the Phantoms.
Meanwhile, Foerster, a 6-foot-2 right winger, possesses one of the organization’s best shots. The 20-year-old recently started skating again with the Flyers after suffering a shoulder injury in November. Foerster scored 36 goals in 62 games in his final year in the OHL for the Barrie Colts and last season, as one of the AHL’s youngest players, chipped in 10 goals and 17 points in 24 games for the Phantoms.
Foerster, who has the tools to be a weapon as both a power forward and a power-play sniper, turned heads during camp, with Phantoms coach Ian Laperriere saying “Wow,” not too many kids can score that goal,” after one September highlight. If fully healthy, don’t completely rule out Foerster playing a few games at the NHL level this season.
Down the road, Finnish sniper Samu Tuomaala (2nd round, 2021), undersized puck-moving defenseman Emil Andrae (2nd round, 2020), who Daily Faceoff NHL draft and prospects analyst Chris Peters compared to St. Louis Blue Torey Krug, and University of Denver star Bobby Brink (2nd round, 2019) are three prospects to be excited about.